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16 - The Republican Form of Government in The Federalist

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2020

Jack N. Rakove
Affiliation:
Stanford University, California
Colleen A. Sheehan
Affiliation:
Villanova University, Pennsylvania
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Summary

The wisdom of The Federalist brings the politics of liberalism to a height it had not reached before and was not to keep. To sustain this lofty claim, I shall first briefly compare its political science – the form of its wisdom – both backward to its sources in liberalism and republicanism and forward to its unwitting heir, the political science of today. The Federalist made liberalism popular and republicanism viable, on the one hand refashioning Locke and Montesquieu to accommodate the American “republican genius” (Fed. 66, 448; also Fed. 37, 234; Fed. 70, 471) and on the other, giving lessons in prudence to naïve republicans in thrall to utopian theory and unable to learn from sad experience. Looking forward, we shall see that our political science repeats the formula we have from Publius (apparent author of The Federalist), as it criticizes formal theory and then proceeds to recreate a formal theory of its own. But our political science does this unconsciously and incompletely, so that it loses the capacity to give advice. To recover the wisdom of The Federalist – still available to us – I shall examine its reform of the republican form and try to show how we can recover its sage and subtle advice. To follow Publius will require a study of the use and abuse of forms in politics.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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